Prime Minister Kallas at Tallinn Digital Summit: technology can be used to reinforce democracy

Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said today at Tallinn Digital Summit that while democracy faces great challenges and authoritarian regimes are using the tools of the digital age against the free society, the free world can strengthen democracy through technology by making a joint effort.

In her opening speech at Tallinn Digital Summit 2023, which focuses on links between democracy and technology, Prime Minister Kallas noted that the free world has the opportunity to use technology to reinforce democracy. “Democracies need to focus more on how we can harness technology for the benefit of open and resilient societies. To this end, openness, responding to people’s needs, resilience and cooperation are crucial,” emphasised Kallas.

Kallas gave examples of how technology supports open societies and cooperation, e.g. in investigating war crimes, helping Ukrainian war refugees or promoting global initiatives, such as the World Cleanup Day started by Estonians. “Economic and societal openness reinforce each other. Democracies don’t have to undertake the impossible balancing act authoritarian regimes face: allowing enough economic openness to foster growth without losing political control,” Kallas said. “Here in Europe, I worry about a different balancing act – that we will overregulate new technologies and business models with the aim of protecting our citizens but instead slow down many of the benefits that technologies offer,” noted Kallas.

Kallas underlined that governments cannot be passive observers of technological progress. “We need to show we are responsive to people’s needs and the challenges of our times. In Estonia, we are building a personalised state that proactively offers each person and business the services they need, delivered when and how they need them, in as few steps as possible. For instance, personalised medicine is helping us target life-saving medical interventions. Personalised curricula are helping to tailor education to the needs of each pupil,” Kallas recounted Estonia’s experience.

Kallas noted that we must also take advantage of the huge potential offered by AI, get to know its risks and find ways to mitigate them. “A country cannot develop technologically without embracing AI. AI helps to detect fraud, automate the payment of subsidies, and provide better job placements for the unemployed. This brings us to the third ingredient for success in the digital era: building sufficient technological resilience to cyber attacks. The war is not only happening in Ukraine, but also in the cyberspace, as Russia is intentionally targeting data centres. We need to adapt to the rapidly changing security environment. Estonia nearly doubled its annual cyber security budget last year, alongside to the commitment to spend at least 3% of GDP on defence overall.” Kallas also invited other countries to contribute more to cyber defence and security.

“Openness, responsiveness, resilience – all of these are areas where democracies can use technology to win every time. But there is a crucial, final ingredient: and that is collaboration. First and foremost, right now, that means supporting Ukraine until victory – with humanitarian aid and weapons, but also bringing Ukraine into NATO and the European Union,” said Kallas.

“In addition to cooperation within the public sector, we must also collaborate with the private sector. A living example of this is Ukraine, where there is cooperation with the private sector in the field of cyber defence, which has proved to be a great success,” the prime minister added.

Full text of Prime Minister Kaja Kallas’ opening speech at Tallinn Digital Summit: